I recently attended the annual full moon fire festival.
The short version of the event is during the evening of the first full moon of the lunar calendar – believed to be the brightest moon of the year – large bonfires are made.
People write their hopes and prayers and tie them to the sheaf that will be set ablaze. The branches, wood, and sheaf that are strung together is called the “moon house”. It is really only 1 part of many rituals that are carried out throughout the day of, the night, and the morning after.
This year’s festival felt different. It started with how they were interacting with the “moon’s house” before the ceremony. The time when it is on display and when you are able to write your piece and attach it to the house for burning later in the evening. In the past, most people would huddle around it, and there would be a large crowd. This year, people kept their distance… why? So they could get the whole house in the frame of their smartphone camera.
I was looking for a specific shot when it came to the lighting of the house, but as luck would have it, my sightline wasn’t what I was expecting or hoping for, especially considering where I had set up my tripod an hour before the lighting.
So I backed it all the way up, got the whole crowd in with the fire and the moon. I was surprisingly happy with myself for making that decision. I got a few shots, not as many as I had hoped as I kept knocking on my tripod. But one that I did get I thought was nice. The thing that I noticed was that after it was lit, a good majority, maybe 70-80% of the people had cleared out within the next 5-10 minutes. Hoping to beat the traffic rush. The fire part of the ceremony was the highlight, the climax, the event everyone came to see. In the past people would wait until it burnt itself out or until the fire department (on standby) would put it out about an hour later. Not this year…
Fast forward to the next day when I got it on the large screen of the computer, and bam! It hit me right away… it looked like almost everyone had their phones up taking pictures of it! They showed up, they took their picture of it with their phone, and left.
It seems to have gone from taking photos of an enjoyable time, to not being able to enjoy the time because people are thinking and worrying too much about how to make some wonderful IG post, to not even caring about the time at all, and just grabbing a photo, almost as to prove to someone that they were there. I didn’t even mention the woman who spent the entire ceremony that involved traditional dancers watching a soap opera on her phone.
Yes, you were there, but did you experience what you came to photograph? The emotional experience that once led people to make a photograph used to show in the photograph…
There’s been something on my mind for quite some time. I think it is something that a lot of people need to stop and give a long hard thought about.
I, like many of you, wander around the vast space that is the World Wide Web looking at images that many of you have photographed. I also read the same articles and blogs as you. There’s a chance that I’ve even read yours. I also read a lot of the comments to many of the articles. It’s always interesting to me to see the debate that most articles stir up, usually accidentally.
There’s one topic that isn’t much of a debate, but I’ve noticed a trend that contradicts what many people either think, and definitely say.
Over the last little while, the big mirrorless versus digital single-lens reflex camera debate. Which one was better? Will mirrorless ever replace DSLRs? Are DSLRs dead? Is the mirrorless camera a trend? Surely you’ve seen them, heard about them, and maybe even threw your views into the fray.
As funny as it may sound to you now, for those of us of a certain age, these were pretty much the same questions being bantered around about 20 years ago when the digital camera entered the market and prices started to drop within reach of the avid amateur.
This post isn’t about this argument. I want to bring in the smartphone into the conversation today. There’s no denying the fact that the photographic abilities of today’s smartphone have come a long, long way. I look back at my first device that had a camera-my Sony Clié NR-70- and thought that the photos were good enough for my trip to Mexico instead of bringing a camera. (Unfortunately, I have no idea where it or the photos are now.) Upon my arrival to Korea in 2003, I didn’t see the need for a cellphone. I went my entire first year without a cellphone, instead using that money to buy my first camera, a Nikon F-65.
My second year here, I started to see a need for a phone and bought a second hand one. It was the Samsung V-200. I still have a few files saved from the camera on that phone. At the time, they were good enough for grabbing the spontaneous shot while you were out with friends or that first in-match 180,
or a surprise fog over the mountains behind the Olympic Bridge.
The Gap is Getting Smaller
Today’s smartphones’ cameras and image quality are very good. Can they do the same as a mirrorless or DSLR? As of the date of this post, not yet. Will they ever? Only time will tell. But that gap is much smaller today than it was in 2004 when those photos were taken and Nikon’s 6 megapixel D50 was still a year away from being released.
That gap is so small that I know first hand that National Geographic magazine has published photos taken with phones in their stories. My jaw hit the floor when I was told this bit of information. One of the photographers that I talked to even went so far to say that most of the photos he takes are now done with his phones instead of his camera.
What are you really trying to say?
Photographers are a strange bunch.
Let’s try to figure it out, shall we?
On one side you have: “The best camera is the one you have with you.”
On the other side, that same person (not you, but others) will turn around and rip into someone for not having a pro-level DSLR camera to shoot with.
So what is it? The camera doesn’t matter, or it does?
Another hot topic that gets a lot of people’s blood boiling for some reason is when someone writes an article or post about that one non-photographer person who compliments a photo with the comment on the lines of, “Wow, that’s a great photo, you must have an expensive camera.”
I will guarantee that one of the adjoining comments will be, “Wow that was a great meal you must have an expensive stove.” followed by “Wow, that’s a great painting, you must have expensive brushes.” (Which actually falls in a little bit of their own ignorance as much like the camera, the better quality brush, paint and media, the better quality…well you get the idea, but we’ll save that one for a later post.)
For those keeping score, they get upset when someone judges a photo based on the camera, saying that the camera is only a tool, but they get upset when they compliment the fine tool that they have, and they get upset when someone else’s tool doesn’t match the price of their tool.
But that’s not all
This is the thing that confuses me the most…
If the camera is just a tool, and it doesn’t matter what tool or camera you have, why do many people feel the need to post a photo and writing “I shot this with my phone.”
What game are you playing?
It often feels like when someone posts a photo with “I shot this on my phone,” they are doing one of 4 things.
Showing off, or;
Building an excuse;
At first, when I first started reading this, if felt like it was the photographer’s way of saying sorry for the poor image quality, or it was a shot that needed a telephoto lens but was greatly restricted by the ultra wide angle of the typical phone camera.
Then it dawned on me that some of these photos really didn’t have much wrong about it, and it almost started to feel like some people were writing it to say, “Hey look how good I am. I got this photo with my phone and it’s a lot better than the photo you got with your $4000 camera/lens combination.
Then it got to the point where photographers would use it on a photo that they were proud of and think is a strong photo in composition, light, colour, and interest. But when another person not nearly as enthusiastic about it would comment that something needed to be corrected or changed, it becomes a way of saying “I could have done better if I had my ‘real’ camera.”
Then it turned into a way of saying “Please don’t post any negative comments about any aspect of the photo, my fragile ego can’t handle it.”
There is an obsession with camera gear. I get it. I’m also curious as to how the newest lens or camera can help me. (I’d love to have that new instant wood camera with the bellows in my hands just to play and experiment.) But if gear doesn’t matter: “The best camera is the one you have with you,” then why is it so important to tell other people that you shot it on a phone?
At the end of the day, I feel a lot of photographers both the creator of the photograph and the audience of said photograph, need to get past the gear and just appreciate the photograph for what it is… a photograph.